"Janitor, have you ever looked at yourself and wished that you were different in every single way?" - Elliot
"No. I'm a winner. But I will tell you something that my grandmother told me when I was a kid -- even though at the time I thought she was my mother. She said, 'Time spent wishing is time wasted.' Now, she died shortly after that, and my sister -- who actually was my mother -- she never got over it. Neither did my brother-dad. The point is this: if you want to be different, then be different." - Janitor
As Scrubs wraps its fifth season on NBC, it remains an anomaly in primetime television. Debuting in 2001, the comedic story of the doctors at Sacred Heart Hospital has bounced all over the schedule, haphazardly hopping between Tuesdays and Thursdays, buried on off-Sweeps rerun nights, replaced by repeats of Friends and Will & Grace, often squeezed out by NBC's "Super Sized" campaign, and frequently starting late due to network DVR trickery. Yet through all of the scheduling confusion, it has maintained a fiercely loyal fan base of viewers who adore its wonderful blend of zany sight gags and witty dialogue; and while their numbers do not constitute the type of megahit NBC's been trying to recapture for years, Scrubs has been able to carve out its own slice of primetime and survive where so many other offbeat comedies have failed. Through that time, the series has matured into one of the best shows on television, delivering much of its finest work in the third year with a slate of memorable guest stars and dramatically compelling stories. Buena Vista Home Entertainment now presents those episodes on DVD with "Scrubs - The Complete Third Season".
The third season of Scrubs represents change and growth, not only for the characters but for the series itself, as it takes a step back from the raw slapstick comedy and strikes a delicate balance between outrageous humor and heartfelt drama. This growth is immediately addressed in the season premiere, "My Own American Girl", where J.D. (Zach Braff) notes in his internal monologue that things never really change at the hospital. As the episode progresses, however, we learn how mistaken he is as Dr. Elliot Reid (Sarah Chalke), the insecure doormat of seasons past, grows tired of hating herself and transforms into "The New Elliot", a slammin' hottie who dresses with confidence and stands up for herself on the job. This positive step for Elliot not only makes her character more interesting for the rest of the year, but it sets the tone of personal growth that makes the season so strong.
The emergence of "The New Elliot" also sets in motion one of the major plot threads of the season as J.D. begins to have romantic feelings for his longtime friend. While the two have hooked up in the past for short-term encounters, this time he thinks it's for real, but to act on these feelings he has to contend with her impossibly perfect boyfriend Sean (Scott Foley). What works so wonderfully about this thread is that is doesn't have that manipulative "Will They or Won't They?" feel that consumes so many popular sitcoms, going so far as to mock another show with throwaway characters Dr. Ross and Rachel. The season isn't an excuse to get the audience to root for J.D. and Elliot to get together; it's simply something going on in their lives and just one of the many aspects of the show.
The other key relationship for this season is that of Dr. Turk (Donald Faison) and Nurse Carla (Judy Reyes), who are preparing to get married, conveniently in the season finale. Turk and Carla love each other very much, and there's no doubt among their friends and coworkers that they are meant to be together, but the two have to learn a lot of give and take to make their relationship work. Turk has to mature beyond his "frat boy" antics and recognize Carla's needs, while Carla has to put aside some of her bossy tendencies and accept that Turk is always going to be a kid at heart. The evolution of their relationship is certainly one of the strongest aspects of the series, and it works to perfection as this season plays itself out.
Also working to perfection are two of the show's strongest characters, Dr. Perry Cox (John C. McGinley) and The Janitor (Neil Flynn). While the show largely centers around the four younger friends, it's the involvement of these two hilarious individuals that elevates it to side-splitting levels of humor. The Janitor's antics are absolutely ridiculous, like when he spends an entire episode speaking with different accents depending on whom he's talking to or when he dons a mustache and t-shirt and goes to outrageous lengths to convince J.D. and Turk that he's really his own twin brother. Dr. Cox too is in fine form as always, harassing pretty much anyone who gets in his path, and still finding time to be an insightful but reluctant mentor to his residents. McGinley's performance in the stellar episode "My Screw Up" (and the follow-up "My Tormented Mentor") is just heart-breaking, and it's a crime that the major award shows haven't recognized his work on this series.
In addition to the primary cast, the third season of Scrubs is a virtual cavalcade of amazing guest stars. The aforementioned Scott Foley is fantastic as Elliot's All-American boyfriend Sean, and Tara Reid is surprisingly strong as J.D.'s party-girl fling he uses to get over Elliot. Christopher Meloni gives a great turn as pediatrician Dr. Norris in "My White Whale", a character who is as arrogant and unlikable as Dr. Cox himself, but who is so good at his job that parents send their children to him nonetheless. Tom Cavanaugh returns as J.D.'s free-loading brother for the episode "My Brother, Where Art Thou?", and Freddy Rodriguez is hilarious in three episodes as Carla's brother Mark, who holds a grudge against Turk who mistook Mark for a valet the first time they met. Other great guest stars include Bernie Kopell, Nicole Sullivan, Barry Bostwick, Julie Warner, and the return of hypochondriac Richard Kind, but it's two episodes with Michael J. Fox and the return of Brendan Fraser that really make this season something special.
In "My Catalyst" and "My Porcelain God", Michael J. Fox stars as Dr. Kevin Casey, a brilliant surgeon who suffers from a near incapacitating case of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Fox, who is one of countless cast members from creator Bill Lawrence's Spin City to drop by Sacred Heart, delivers a moving yet hilarious performance as the object of Dr. Cox's jealousy and the man everyone invariably starts turning to for advice upon arrival. Disguising his real life Parkinson's Disease with the character's OCD is a clever device that isn't at all gimmicky and works wonderfully on the show. These two episodes are followed by what is arguably Scrubs' finest half-hour, "My Screw Up", with Brendan Fraser reprising his role as Dr. Cox's brother-in-law Ben. Penned by writing team Garrett Donovan and Neil Goldman and directed by Chris Koch, this episode is expertly crafted and showcases what the series can be when it nails both the comedic and dramatic elements to perfection.
Through 22 episodes, this third season represents many of the best efforts from the Scrubs team. There are ongoing relationship threads, like the one between J.D. and Elliot as well as the wedding of Turk and Carla, but they never dominate the show or come across as manipulative, and the way these threads are more-or-less resolved by season's end is much more consistent with the real world than television fantasy. While this season does aim higher in the emotional department, J.D.'s outrageous fantasies and flashback sequences remain in tact, and the series is as funny as it ever has been, with some hysterical moments from background characters like high-fiving sexually-inappropriate "The Todd" (Robert Maschio) and Dr. Kelso's (Ken Jenkins) perpetually depressed Ted (Sam Lloyd). How Scrubs has managed to survive this long is a bit of a mystery to me, but I am certainly glad that it has, and this third season is filled with some of its best moments.
"Scrubs - The Complete Third Season" is spread across three discs, with 8 episodes on the first, 9 crammed onto the second, and the final 5 plus bonus features on the third. The discs are housed in a three-panel foldout, with two discs overlapping on the central panel and the third disc isolated on the right. This overlapping technique does save some space, but if you're looking to just get one of the discs out to watch a specific episode, it can be pretty annoying. Each disc has photos of two cast members on the label, and the cardboard panels contain some thematic art as well as an episode and bonus feature guide. When folded, the casing slides into the bottom of a clear plastic sleeve that contains more art from the show. The entire package looks very clean and appropriate for the show, and it has a minimal footprint of about 5/8". A lithograph insert is included that shows the title of the set and a photo of the cast. Dubbed "Scrub-o-graphs" by Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 100 of these have been autographed by the cast and distributed to random retailers.
The menus are 16:9 and include some clever animations with the show's theme "Superman" by Lazlo Bane playing in the background. On the bonus features, the music is replaced by some fun beat-boxing reminiscent of the talented stylings of Elliot's intern Bruce. Navigation is really simple, and the episodes have chapter stops without being bogged down by unnecessary "Scene Selection" menus. There is a "Play All" feature that works great, and if you choose to watch the episodes individually, the DVD always returns you to the next episode's menu to avoid unnecessary clicking around. As with most of BVHE's releases, the producers have done a good job anticipating the consumer's needs and not wasting a lot of space on stuff that just gets in the way.
Each episode is presented in a 4:3 format, and I must admit that I was pretty underwhelmed with the quality. Cramming 8 and 9 episodes to a disc has lowered the bit rate into the 5Mb/s territory, so there is some artifacting here and there, but it is the large amount of grain, the noticeable edge enhancement, and the weak colors that hurt this release the most. While it is better than you would see for an older television series being release on DVD, for something this recent, I have come to expect a better video presentation. I don't think you should let my criticism in this area affect your purchase of this wonderful season, but if you will be watching this on a high quality monitor, you will likely be disappointed.
The audio is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital, and other than the fact that they can, I don't really see why. The audio is incredibly front-heavy with very little going on in the surround channels, and for a show of this nature, that is precisely what one would expect. Dialogue is clean and clear, and I could find no noticeable faults with it. Everything sounds just fine for a dialogue-driven television show.
English subtitles are included.
WHISTLES & BELLS:
There are two audio commentaries on this set, one with Donald Faison (Turk) and writer Mark Stegemann on "His Story II", and the second with Donald Faison, Judy Reyes (Carla), and director Randall Winston. While there is some fun to be had listening to these guys interact with one another away from the show itself, these are not particularly strong commentaries, and there is not much insight to be gained by listening to them.
On the third disc are a pretty solid array of bonus features, mostly in the form of short featurettes. Twist and Shoot (6:55) covers three of the series' first-time directors: Richard Alexander Wells (1st Assistant Director) on "My Fault", John Inwood (Director of Photography) on "My Lucky Night", and Randall Winston (Line Producer) on "My Self-Examination". It's a nice little piece on how these guys came to direct their first episode and what they each brought to the table. Don't Try This at Home (5:45) focuses on some of the stunts that go into the fantasy sequences and physical comedy on the show.
Long-Term Residents (7:10) goes into some detail on the various guest stars that appear in this season, and What Up Dawg? (6:02) is a fun piece about how just about everyone in front of and behind the camera has a pet dog that they bring onto the set. Scrubs Factor (4:44) continues the behind-the-scenes fun with stories of all the gross things people in the cast and crew have done during Friday afternoon bets, including 2nd Assistant Director Scott Harris dare to eat a bunch of pigs' knuckles.
The next two featurettes focus on specific cast members. Robert Keeps Talking (4:53) is a short interview session with Robert Maschio, who plays "The Todd" on the show. With training in stand-up comedy, Maschio is quick on his feet, and this makes for a very entertaining piece about one of the show's more unique characters. The New Elliot (5:50) goes into some detail about the network's desire to reinvent Elliot into a more marketable image and how it worked out so wonderfully in the creative department. The final featurette is called Is There a Doctor in the House?, and it is a discussion with cast and crew about the story arc between J.D. and Elliot and how hard they tried to make it interesting without turning the show into a romantic comedy.
Scrubbed Out: Deleted Scenes (4:41) and Alternate Lines: A Second Option (3:05) are more or less the same thing, each containing 8 segments that didn't make it into the final cuts of the episodes. The second section is essentially alternate deliveries of various lines, some more funny than others, while the first is a combination of longer scenes or entire segments that were cut. There is some really great material in here, particularly a few scenes between J.D. and Dr. Cox, that really should not have hit the cutting room floor. Others, like a disgusting scene with J.D. and a dirty sponge, belong here and only here. Lastly, there is a Gag Reel that runs just over 4 minutes. While some of these bonus materials are more interesting than others, on the whole, it makes for a pretty good slate of additional material, and I think fans of the show will really enjoy most of it.
Scrubs is that rare show that can appeal to an audience on many different levels. It blends outrageous sight gags and pratfalls with fast-paced and intelligent dialogue, all the while maintaining a heartfelt and often insightful emotional undercurrent. The cast is arguably the strongest ensemble for a comedy on television right now, and they are in top form for this third season. With great guest stars, strong season-long story arcs, and standout episodes like "My Catalyst", "My Porcelain God", "His Story II", "My Self-Examination", and "My Best Friend's Wedding", plus the stellar "My Screw Up", "Scrubs - The Complete Third Season" is representative of this fantastic series at its absolute best. Add in a healthy batch of bonus features, and I Highly Recommend it.